The Gators are sitting on the brink.
Florida Gators baseball suffered a 9-4 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma in Game 4 of the Gainesville Regional for their first loss of the NCAA Tournament. It’s now win or go home for them and they’ll need three wins to make super regional play.
Brandon Neely found himself in trouble early after picking up a strikeout against OU’s John Spikerman. After a single and walk, Neely fought back to strand both on a strikeout and grounder to Sterlin Thompson to end the first.
The Gators jumped out in front after a clean second from Neely. Freshman Ty Evans belted his first home run since May 19 off Sooner starter David Sandlin. Then Jac Caglianone continued his torrid stretch with a bomb off the batter’s eye for a 2-0 Gator lead.
But the Sooners came right back with a rally of their own in the next half inning. Peyton Graham’s 18th bomb of the year with Kendall Pettis on tied the game at 2-2. Then Blake Robertson found the barrel and deposited his fifth of the year into the Gator bullpen.
“We had scored two runs in the second,” Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We had the momentum and then walked the nine hitter on four straight. It kind of spiraled out of control at that point.”
Neely’s day quickly ended after a walk to Tanner Tredaway. He suffered the loss while lasting just 2.1 innings.
Fisher Jameson came in and finished off the inning but not before the Sooners extended the lead. A wild pitch from Jameson with the bases loaded allowed a run to score.
It was controversial run as Sooner batter Jackson Nicklaus seemingly blocked Guscette from getting to the ball after it skipped away. The Gator had to shove the Sooner second baseman out of his way just to reach it. But Tredaway was plated before any play was made.
According to Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, the umpires told him Nickalus was clear of interference because his inaction wasn’t deemed intentional. Obviously, he and the Gator faithful disagreed as he argued the call while fans hurled boos at the umpires along with Nicklaus for each of his at-bats.
Another wild pitch in the next inning made it 5-2 Oklahoma. Kendall Pettis singled and stole second. A balk moved him to third. Then the wild pitch from Jameson brought him home as he narrowly beat out Guscette’s tag.
The Gator bats went quiet for multiple innings though. At one point the Gator lineup mustered two baserunners on a Thompson single and Fabian walk.
There was a little life shown as Florida got back a run on a sacrifice fly from Evans to pull it within three. But Fabian flew out to center to end the rally. David Sandlin really settled down after his rocky second for OU. He finished with three earned runs allowed over six innings with six strikeouts.
It was his first start allowing multiple home runs since May 7. But it was his fourth straight with at least six punchouts.
He knew if he didn’t walk people, those big blasts wouldn’t matter as much. Sandlin allowed just one walk in his start.
And Oklahoma responded in the seventh with Jimmy Crooks’s second home run of the day to push the lead out to 8-3.
O’Sullivan said every time it seemed the Gators grabbed momentum the Sooners responded in prompt manner. Mac Guscette added Florida’s final run with a home run in the seventh and Oklahoma responded with a run in the eighth to keep the margin as comfortable as possible.
Now the Gators are one loss away from their postseason ending at the regional round for the third time in as many tournaments. Florida was bounced in the Lubbock Regional in 2019 and went 0-2 and barbecue in Gainesville in 2021.
O’Sullivan’s going with his best available arm to start in the rematch with the Central Michigan Chippewas: Nick Pogue. That would leave potentially bullpen games the remainder of the regional if they come out winners starting Sunday.
“You can’t save anybody at this point, you lose a game and you’re done,” O’Sullivan said.
Both he and catcher BT Riopelle echoed it’s a big moment but their backs were against the wall in Hoover and Florida made the championship round. Gators will need lightning in a bottle again if they want to make it out of the first round.
Florida’s Sunday starts at 1 p.m. against CMU on